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WHAT WE THINK
Opinion polls show growing discontent with war on Iraq
Why Bush is losing the occupation

July 8, 2005 | Page 3

GEORGE W. BUSH's June 28 speech to "reassure the American people" about his war for oil and empire in Iraq didn't even convince Republicans. Growing criticism from his own ranks slowed somewhat, but lawmakers like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still grumbled that the administration was too slow in training a new Iraqi security force to take over policing the occupation.

Of course, McCain's objection is a symptom of the deeper problem for the U.S.--that the occupation is hated by the vast majority of Iraqis, and active opposition is growing continually.

In particular, the armed resistance--far from being limited to "foreign terrorists" and former members of the regime--is supported by a wide cross-section of Iraqis and has grown much more intense. Asked about Dick Cheney's insistence that the resistance was in its "last throes," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed last month--but then said that the "last throes" might last as long as another 10 years.

All this is pushing questioning of the war to new highs. A recent poll found that six in 10 people think some or all U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq now.

This is a vindication of everyone who protested the occupation from the moment it began. The falling support for the occupation in the polls paints a picture of discontent and suspicion of the administration in stark contrast to the "conservative heartland" that supposedly turned out to vote for Bush last November.

Unfortunately, some leading voices in the antiwar movement, while rightly celebrating the growing antiwar sentiment, are misjudging its source.

Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin, for example, argued recently that this past June would be seen in history as a milestone for the antiwar movement--most of all because "a significant number of Congresspeople started to call for an exit strategy."

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies echoed Benjamin's argument in "talking points" written for the national antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). Bennis' analysis didn't mention the obvious source of the U.S. crisis in Iraq--the armed resistance among Iraqis, which has caused fits for the Pentagon and its mighty war machine. Instead, she credited "years of careful and intensive local and national organizing," culminating in "a major tipping point in antiwar sentiment in public opinion, and resulting shifts in Congress."

This has it exactly backward. The antiwar movement came to a virtual standstill for during last year's election campaign.

Further, Bennis inflates the importance of the several congressional resolutions on Iraq sponsored by liberal Democrats--which are, in reality, only half-measures. For example, the resolution sponsored by liberal Dennis Kucinich calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to begin in October 2006--more than a year away. And its Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones, emphasizes that the resolution is only for partial withdrawal--thus, maintaining a U.S. military presence to manipulate politics in Iraq.

It's certainly positive to see some movement among lawmakers in response to the growing public discontent. But at the same time, it's undeniable that the majority of Democratic representatives are resolutely pro-war. Thus, when Bush's demand for another $82 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation came to a vote in the Senate, it passed unanimously.

The Democratic response to Bush's late June speech, by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), was explicitly limited to how the occupation could be carried out more effectively, not why it should be ended now.

Likewise, John Kerry echoed his presidential campaign rhetoric in half-defending Bush. Asked after the speech, "Is Bush getting an unfair shake?" Kerry answered, "To some degree, I think that's true. And I've said that publicly. We've made progress."

Kerry's statement reflects the opinion of the bipartisan Washington establishment that Iraq is too important to U.S. interests to lose. Behind the rhetoric, the aim of the two pro-war parties is to find a better puppet government and repackaging the occupation, not ending it.

The Democrats' pro-war election campaign in 2004 was directly responsible for demobilizing the antiwar movement and deflecting wider doubts and questioning of the war. Yet UFPJ and other leading organizations in the antiwar movement are once again looking to the Democrats.

No movement has ever been built by surrendering its principles. We have to keep up the pressure on the politicians, not adapt ourselves to their positions--or, in the name of reaching out to some mythical "conservative heartland," dilute our message until we're left with no message at all.

The mobilization for the national demonstrations on September 24 will provide the opportunity for antiwar activists at the grassroots to reach out even more broadly to new opponents of the war. In September, we need to raise our voices and demand complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq now.

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